Is It “Appalling” to Publish a Photo of a U.S. Soldier Dying in Battle?

September 4th, 2009, byStaff


The Associated Press released a photo Friday of Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard, moments after he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade on Aug. 14, in Afghanistan. Bernard later died from his wounds.

Some newspapers published the photo with the accompanying AP story, but the Los Angeles Times, Houston Chronicle, The New York Times and The Washington Post did not include the photo with the story.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called the AP’s decision “appalling.”

But the AP defends its decision, saying that “journalists document world events every day. Afghanistan is no exception. We feel it is our journalistic duty to show the reality of the war there, however unpleasant and brutal that sometimes is.”

What do you think?

Was the AP wrong to publish the photo of a dying soldier? Was the news agency being insensitive to the soldier’s family?

Or does Secretary Gates have it wrong? Do the American people need to see the harsh realities of war? Are American papers too sanitized?

Share your thoughts.

  • Joseph Reaves

    Yes it is appalling and is symbolic of a media and society ruled by gossip websites like TMZ and MediaTakeOut. We feel we have the right to know everything about everybody especially if they’re a celebrity or public figure. Some media outlets really have no shame anymore or credibility (i.e.- CNN using TMZ as a news source). This is just another example of how we are living in a sin-sick, broken, and dying world

  • Roscoe Robinson Sr.

    I don’t think it’s any more “Apalling” than when they thought it was appropriate to flash video and pics of Saddam Hussein’s sons all over EVERY NEWS CHANNEL ALL DAY for WEEKS after They went and MURDERED THEM, then turned right around and did the Same Thing when they caught and MURDERED HIM!
    Where’s the Difference? .. There IS NONE!!

  • julie

    i believe we should see these images to instruct us to eliminate the truly appauling aspect of the situation– that we need soldiers in the first place. after all, if we close our eyes to the things we would rather not see, we are just trying to deny what we know.

  • My Will

    It is not appalling. It’s called realism. Relating this issue to the private lives of other citizens (celebrities) is off point. The reality is that we are at war, and yet we’re able to not even think about it because showing an American who has died in battle is considered taboo in our media. It’s privilege. The fact that we are at war and that our folks are dying every day should be in the news and on our minds…then maybe we’ll feel compelled to do something about it. Putting a human face on the death that is occurring everyday might help people realize that it isn’t “their” problem that’s happening “over there.”

  • Samantha Wilson

    I think it is appalling!!! It further desensitizes our society to violence of any kind. We see enough violence on TV and in the movies to know what war is like. Such photos accomplish what? What is the end game? Will it end the war? Will the enemy cease fire? I feel that no matter if it’s a soldier or an enemy these type of photos are disrespectful to the spouses, children,complete family and friends of the injured/dead. Again, what is the real intent of displaying such a photo? To the person on this side of the camera it is a photo opt. but for a dying soldier, it is no doubt a painfully private situation. It should be honored as such-Private. We should cover him in a cloak of honor and dignity no matter what. There is a time and place for everything, whether we agree with this war or not. The enormity of war is that there will be casualties but is it necessary to expose all of us to these photos especially our young children.

  • Esme

    I remember a photo of a vietnamese man who was shot in the head way back in the 1960′s. That was appalling, but moreso, it was a horrifying look at the terrible things war does to people. Not sure how I feel about this soldier’s photo, but I’m sure it must be horrific for his family. I, personally, will not be searching the photo out. There’s enough violence in society already. Whatever happened to pictures of beautiful young women putting flowers into the barrels of rifles? We need more like that.

  • Regina Flowers

    I don’t think that it is “appalling” to take the photo because we do need accurate documentation of the war. The AP appropriately, in my opinion, released the photo to the newswire so that Americans can have access. The only issue that remains is the newspapers’ decision to publish the photo with the story. I’m interested in knowing whether those papers offered a disclaimer so that the readers could make the decision to see the picture. Did the newspapers that published the photo consider the effect it would have on the family?

  • Lucia Brawley

    No, it’s not appalling. It’s important for us to see the reality of war’s cost. Otherwise, we will continue to send our youth too easily into pointless battle after pointless battle.

  • Malik

    Although it is a difficult image to digest…
    It is an image that NEEDS to be seen. We live in a rather politically correct society that tends to tune out that which we do not have to contend with daily.
    We are at war..and at no point should that fact be mundane, accepted or overlooked.

  • tomrojas

    Well OK; but then let’s establish a balance by also publishing photos of mutilated accident victims, raped women, executions, and the slaughtering of livestock.

  • Michele Earney

    It certainly brings more emotion to the story when you can see the photo. Perhaps the defense department doesn’t want us to see the death that is occuring in the War?

  • dion ikomi

    I agree with Malik, above: “We are at war..and at no point should that fact be mundane, accepted or overlooked.”
    If there is a single reason why citizens of the United States can live with, when not otherwise be enthused with and by, their own nation’s killings and destructions on foreign soils, it is because U.S. citizens are sheltered from the reality of their nation’s wars, subterfuges and crimes.
    Is it just a matter of irony that so many U.S. mainstream prime-time fiction 1hr “movies” are replete with gory pictures of make-believe crime scenes and bodies, often make-believe mutilated bodies, in morgues…while the same U.S. citizenry that watches such blood and gore dramatized fiction in their private quarters complains, objects to pictures and video of the real consequences of the wars being waged in their name?
    It is an irony. It is a psychosis. It is a psychosis that seems unique to empires.

  • Mr Sancho

    Yes its apalling-war is apalling-our young men dying is apalling-”what are we dying for don’ ask me I don’t give a damn next stop is Afganistan”.

  • Lorin

    As a journalist I see nothing wrong with the photographer and the AP producing this photo of truth for the public. The paparazzi are allowed to photo celebrities at will in the most intimate settings and they do not get ridiculed.
    And secondly the photograph is not as horrific as described. I could understand if the soldier’s face and body were visible in plain sight. The photo itself has a motion blur and everything would have to be explained to even tell where the injury occurred.

  • Patrick

    If the picture de-glorify war and the so-called “war on terrorism,” then I am glad the picture was printed for the world to see. Those who continue to bang the drums of war should go over there themselves and send our soldiers to places that really need HELP not more imperialism.

  • SSG Wall

    I am disgusted by those of you who feel that the pictures should have been published.
    Your right to “know” trumps the grief and request of the family not to publish them? I think not. You are selfish brats.
    If the pictures were of an unknown soldier or Marine then okay. But once you personalize it, the entire character of the issue changes. The phrase “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind” comes to mind.
    Yes war is terrible and I know it better than most. But just because it is so trerrible is no reason for us to lose our own sense of propriety and compassion for a family now enduring gut wrenching grief.
    As for he who compares this to the death of Saddam Hussein and his sons. Wow, comparing this Marine doing his duty to that mass murderer and his torturing sons shows, well what more needs be said?
    We, the American People – sent that Marine to Afghanistan. Since he was there at our direction, the least we can do is honor him and his family by abiding with his father’s request. Simple decency.

  • Michele

    As the mother of a son serving, I have to disagree with so many of you who feel that you are entitled to visually see a picture of one of our men or women at the time of their death. Yes, I find it vital that his/her death be reported in the news, and if you must see a picture of them, the media is privy to their official service photo. Sec. Gates listened very carefully and attentively to all of we military parents and recognized how fragile our lives are immediately following the death of our loved ones. When he chose to lift the media block and return to allowing the media to be onsite when our loved ones return to Dover, he had our blessing, with the caveat that the media be respectful of our privacy and respect our requests. The family of this soldier specifically asked that the photo NOT be released, AND Sec. Gates asked that the family’s request be honored – and yet, the AP released the photo within its essay (which is absolutely okay, especially to document the history of the war), and left it up to the individual editors whether or not they wanted to choose that photo for print publication to go along with the story. The AP should have respected the family’s specific request, reiterated by Sec. Gates to reconsider releasing the photo – and should have asked their markets to NOT publish that particular photo.

  • Dana Hardy

    The family did not desire the picture of their son to be made public. I concur. This was a private passing of their loved one.

Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 11:17 am